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The pantomime of Divorce D-Day

The mythical Divorce D-Day reappears every January and solicitors are doing nothing to stop it, including Tony Roe

4 January 2013

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As much as a tradition as the appearance of the pantomime dame, the Divorce Day story is rolled out by the media every January.

Quite when this story first started appearing is unclear, but it was certainly around five years ago. According to The Daily Telegraph on 4 January 2008, the Monday at the “start of the first full working week after new year... is the day when warring spouses are most likely to instigate divorce proceedings against one another”. It added that “Monday is officially known among lawyers as D-Day, divorce day.” The same paper last year said, “Divorce Day is the lawyers’ nickname for... when unloving couples return from the compulsory cheerfulness of Christmas holidays determined to seek new and separate lives in the New Year.”

This year even the Ministry of Justice has got in on the act, announcing “an extra £10m for mediated divorce”.

The proposition seems to be that the new clients flood solicitors’ offices on the relevant Monday and issue their divorce petitions the same day. And that is apparently ‘official’. In reality, of course, any divorce lawyer will tell you that it is very rare for them to see a new client and issue their divorce petition the same day. Indeed, since the publication of the Law Society’s Family Law Protocol, now in its third edition, this has become even more unlikely. The Protocol states, “Prior to the issue of proceedings... solicitors acting for applicants or petitioners should notify those acting for respondents... of the intention to commence proceedings at least seven days in advance unless there is good reason not to do so.”

Lawyers are pretty keen on evidence, by and large. It goes with the territory. Why then do they give credence to such a myth? Stories about this ‘Manic Monday’ for divorce seem to have increased in number over the last five years or so as this supposed ‘event’ ingrains itself in the media calendar. But don’t blame the journalists. Most family law solicitors do little or nothing to dispel the myth. Instead, we queue up to be quoted.

The story has developed, too. On 20 December 2012, the Telegraph said, “January often sees twice as many couples begin divorce proceedings as any other time of the year.” No matter who might be quoted in support of that proposition, there are no national statistics to back up the number of divorces begun in any given month in England and Wales.

The figures published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) are based on the number of divorces granted annually. ?Even the Judicial & Court Statistics, prepared by the Ministry of Justice, which are based on the number of divorce petitions actually filed in the courts, as opposed to decrees absolute granted, only show quarterly patterns.

Just to throw in a few actual facts, according to the ONS, key findings of the most recent figures include:

? The number of divorces in England and Wales in 2011 was 117,558, a decrease of 1.7 per cent since 2010, when there were 119,589 divorces.

? In 2011, 10.8 people divorced per thousand married population compared with 12.9 in 2001.

? The number of divorces in 2011 was highest among men and women aged 40 to 44.

? Based on marriage, divorce and mortality statistics for 2010, it is estimated that the percentage of marriages ending in divorce is 42 per cent, compared with 45 per cent in 2005.

If there is any truth about Divorce ?D-Day, it is essentially anecdotal. Most experienced family lawyers would say ?that the number of client enquiries drops during school holidays. Perhaps this is because individuals focus on their children rather than the problems in their relationships. If this is correct across the country then, D-Day should occur when the schools reopen, rather than being at the start of the first working week of the new year, which may not coincide. The problem with this is that school holidays vary geographically and between the private and state education sectors.

The Ministry of Justice tries to give ?some credence to the concept. It says that last year the number of searches for information about divorce on its website almost doubled in January. Sadly, we are not given the numbers.

Writing this I do feel as if I have just pointed that the pantomime character is nothing like a dame, or at least not factually proven. However, I do not think that I am likely to undermine the basis of any divorce teams’ marketing strategies for the start of 2013, nor would I want to.

So if I am contacted by the media in the post-festive period, shall I turn down the opportunity to comment as a point of principle? Well it would be rude not to comment, wouldn’t it? Although, of course, journalists may not be able to get through to me on D-Day Monday due to the phone lines being jammed with numerous prospective divorce clients...

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